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Schaefer on Wine

Inman Family Wines: On the balance beam

by Dennis Schaefer

February 21, 2013

There's a movement afoot in the California wine community to spotlight Burgundian varieties, both chardonnay and pinot noir, that are deliberately stylized to be lower in alcohol, presumably less intense and robust in flavor, and therefore (so the thinking goes) more balanced. The flag bearer and rallying point is the "In Pursuit of Balance" group, who, earlier this month, held back-to-back seminars and public tastings in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The winemakers and wineries invited to participate seem to be self-selected as like-minded when it comes to making more balanced wines than is currently the regimen in California winemaking. Among the Santa Barbara County participants: Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat Winery, Gavin Chanin of Chanin Wine Company, Rajat Parr of Sandhi Wines, James Ontiveros of Native9, Justin Willett of Tyler Winery and Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard.

When I visited proprietor and winemaker Kathleen Inman last year at Inman Family Wines in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, I wondered aloud why she wasn't included in this group, particularly since one of the organizers of the event, Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, is practically her neighbor, up the road in the Sonoma Coast, a cool climate region contiguous to the Russian River Valley.

Certainly when I tasted her wines — including some older library selections — at the winery and then again this past week, I was struck how balanced and true to type they were. As with other "In Pursuit of Balance" winemakers, Ms. Inman is also committed to sensitive farming, natural winemaking and environmentally responsible and sustainable practices. Inman Family Wines is a new discovery for me and one I wanted to share with to you. Some thoughts on the wines:


Inman Family Chardonnay, Russian River Valley 2011 ($35): The chardonnay is made from purchased fruit from the region, fermented with native yeast strains, then aged in a mix of a little more stainless steel than French oak. On the nose, it's more mineral and saline-driven than fruit-driven. It's fairly restrained on the palate as well, weighing in at only 12.6 percent alcohol. Not made in the typical buttery, creamy and tropical fruit manner, it shows crisp green apple, pear and lemon zest with hints of beeswax and coconut on the palate. A distinct minerality, with saline and a sense of crushed sea shells, also adds to the complexity and is completed by the lovely overall mouth feel and bright, racy acidity on the finish.


Inman Family Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2009 ($35): A blend of a couple different vineyards, this entry-level pinot noir has a light color around the rim with a savory nose of red fruit: raspberry and strawberry with a hint of rhubarb and brown baking spices. Flavors of raspberry, red cherry and spice are highlighted and change as different facets appear at different times; then a treble note sneaks in the back door: boysenberry and olallieberry lends depth and body to the proceedings, along with brown baking spices. An "incredible lightness of being" pinot noir, it reveals itself with repeated tastes. It's like peeling an onion: you get different levels as you move through and get down to the core. Tasted on the second day open, the wine was just as scintillating and refreshing as the first day, which says something about its structure, finesse and staying power.


• Inman Family Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Olivet Grange Vineyard (OGV) 2009 ($63): This is the bottling of estate vineyard grapes, planted in 2000 right in front of the winery. This vintage was the first year for the partial use of whole clusters (20 percent) in the fermentation; the wine spent two years in French oak and 19 months in bottle before release. The result is enticing aromas of red cherry, raspberry, rose petal and clove. This wine is the shy, retiring beauty of the family, the one that should be prom queen but never gets considered, though the honor would be well deserved. Red fruit leads the flavor way starting with cherry, red raspberry, cranberry and a hint of rhubarb, all light and delicate on the palate, buffered by clove and cinnamon. Elegant in stature, the wine is transparent with its layered but very accessible flavor virtues. It segues into a lengthy and sustained finish with lingering elements of minerals (iron and sea salt) as well as red currant and dried cranberry. It's perhaps one of the most ethereal and magical pinots I've tasted in the last year.


Inman Family Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Thorn Ridge Ranch 2009 ($63): This pinot noir is a horse of a different color, in the sense it's altogether darker and denser. The expectation is that this wine will be heavier, though, as it turns out, it's also very balanced. From a vineyard located high in the Sebastopol Hills, Thorn Ridge Ranch is a steep, east-facing vineyard located above the fog line. The aromas are darker, with black cherry and blackberry most prominent, along with sage and other exotic spices. At first taste, it's a big and rich mouthful of black fruit that follows the nose with the same black cherry and blackberry but also includes black raspberry. Then it deftly expands on mid-palate with the flavors coming across like a light, refreshing breeze. The fruit flavors are mixed with a commensurate level savoriness that includes hints of sage, bay leaf and sea salt as well as a perceptible hint of earthiness in the background. Again, balance is the key that carries the wine through to the ultimately satisfying finish.


Wine expert Dennis Schaefer's column appears every other week in the Food section. E-mail: